John Windle Antiquarian Bookseller has published a Short List 2. 27 Fine Press Books. This is a selection of excellent examples from the book arts. The fine press movement did not begin with William Morris and his Kelmscott Press, but Morris raised it to a higher level both in terms of quality and visibility. Since his brief run in the 1890's, it has been a popular collecting field among those focused more on books as art than as a delivery vehicle for text. Many small, private presses followed Kelmscott, new ones created to this day by those who appreciate the workmanship involved in producing books that goes back to Gutenberg's day.
Speaking of Mr. Morris and his Kelmscott Press, we begin with what is generally acknowledged as that press' finest work, and the finest of all private press books ever published. It took Morris and his artist, Edward Burne-Jones, four years to complete The Works, by Geoffrey Chaucer, published in 1896. Considering that the Kelmscott Press lasted only five years (excepting the closing down process after Morris died in 1896), that represented a major undertaking. Burne-Jones pushed forward with great dedication creating his 87 illustrations, fearful (correctly) Morris would not survive long enough to see the book published if he did not. A total of 425 copies were printed on paper (plus 14 on vellum) of what is now best known as the Kelmscott Chaucer. It remains today the standard of fine press books. Item 21. $75,500.
There is nothing foul about this next book, but there is something very fowl about it. Item 5 comes from Alan James Robinson's Cheloniidae Press, published in 1986: A Fowl Alphabet. This is, naturally enough, an ABC book, with illustrations of birds featured for each letter of the alphabet. Both their common and scientific names are provided. Robinson was an artist, engraver, and printer, and all of his talents come into play with this book. Calligraphic hand-colored lettering was supplied by Suzanne Moore. There were 231 copies printed of this book, including 26 full-vellum lettered copies of which this is one (H). It comes with a suite of 26 signed wood engravings and a signed original watercolor by Robinson. This copy was, appropriately enough, bound by Gray Parrot. Item 5. $3,500.
No one is closer associated with the art of papermaking than Dard Hunter. Active during the first half of the 20th century, Hunter focused on papermaking by hand. That is not to say he did no more. Hunter has the remarkable, and perhaps unique accomplishment of performing every aspect of producing a book, from the papermaking to writing, designing, typesetting, printing and binding. However, papermaking was his first interest and he went on several long trips to examine the art in other lands. This book, published in 1939, explores Papermaking by Hand in India. Hunter describes and photographs what he found, but also left with great concern for its future in India. He writes, "Unless government encouragement is forthcoming, which is most unlikely, the handmade paper industry in India will be a thing of the past in ten years." His upset leads him to be a bit more emphatic – "I am wondering if these silent and embittered people would be cheerful and contented if they were suffered to go their own way, free from the political influence of Great Britain and from alien religious influence." They did, within that ten year span, go their own way, but I have no idea whether that saved the handmade paper industry in India. Item 19. $1,250.
Whether papermaking by hand survived in India, it did survive in the old country. We know that from this 1972 book by Geoffrey Wakeman: English Hand Made Papers Suitable for Bookwork. This folio book contains 76 leaves, employing 24 different handmade papers. The introduction explains, "This book sets out to provide a record of all the book papers being made by hand in England which are readily available for sale, up to a maximum size of 30 x 20 inches..." This book is uncommon, having only been printed in 75 copies. Item 24. $1,250.
This next book describes another niche in the book field, one that produces beautiful patterns on paper: Marbling at the Heyeck Press, by Robin Heyeck, published in 1986. The Heyeck Press is a private press that for 30 years has featured marbled papers. Marbling is the process whereby water is used to help spread ink in spectacular and unique patterns. This book describes the process and the factors that result in success or failure. It includes some samples with flaws as a guide. Item 17. $1,650.